Wimbledon: Sky Sports Raz Mirza talks to French hope Kristina Mladenovic

By Razwan Mirza - Tweet me: @RazMirza.   Last Updated: 22/06/13 10:53pm

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Kristina Mladenovic may not be a name familiar to British tennis fans, but in France she is 'the next big thing' in the women's game.

And after seeing her in full flow on court, you immediately understand why she receives so much media hype across the channel.

Her father Dragan was a professional handball player while her mother Dzenita was a volleyball player for the former Yugoslavia.

Dragan was signed by Dunkerque handball club in 1992 which coincided with the start of the Balkans War which meant a welcome move to France.

A year later, the girl they call 'Kiki' was born in Saint-Pol-sur-Mer and she took up tennis at the age of six. She started training at the local handball club before playing junior tennis and in 2007 she became the European Under 14's singles champion.

After being crowned Junior French Open girls' singles champion in 2009 she was touted as one of the country's hottest female prospects.

"I have a very good opinion about mixed doubles and so far I think it has already helped me a lot for my singles game. I'm just happy playing it."
Kristina Mladenovic

Mladenovic was also runner-up at the girl's singles and doubles finals at Wimbledon the same year.

Last year she won the first ever WTA Title at the Taipei Open and after reaching the last four in Paris and Brazil as well as the quarter-finals in Marrakech, she was finally noticed by the tennis world at this year's French Open when she reached the final of the mixed doubles alongside Daniel Nestor.

Mladenovic at the age of just 20 is a slender six-footer with a forehand to die for and a first serve which most male professionals would find difficult to return.

She also has a dash of actress Lauren Hutton about her too - with the gap-tooth - but her blonde hair and striking look stands out on a tennis court.

Funnily enough she bares a striking resemblance to her first round opponent at Wimbledon this year - Maria Sharapova.

Nestor partnership

The whole story of her French Open success very nearly didn't come about.

Nestor had asked her to be his partner during the Madrid tournament just before Roland Garros, but she had been hoping to play with his regular doubles partner Robert Lindstedt.

However, she soon decided that Nestor - a 40-year-old Canadian and twice her age - was the right choice.

"I had many questions about it during the whole tournament," Mladenovic said. "He's 20-years older than me and he obviously has a lot of experience behind him. He has eight men's grand slam doubles titles which made him so relaxed and cool on and off the court.

"It was our first time together, but we really played some really good tennis.

"He asked me if I would like to continue with him at Wimbledon, so I said yes and now I can't wait.

"It's such good experience playing mixed doubles because it can really help the women's game in trying to return the man's serve.

"I have a very good opinion about mixed doubles and so far I think it has already helped me a lot for my singles game. I'm just happy playing it."

'Kiki' will take on four-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova at Wimbledon

The Nestor-Mladenovic partnership lost the super-tie break to Czech duo Lucie Hradecka and Frantisek Cermak in the final while in the singles, the French youngster was beaten by Australian stalwart Sam Stosur in the second-round 6-4 6-3.

"It was such a great French Open for me this year. I played some good tennis against Sam Stosur, but she was just better than me on the day.

"And then I had this experience in doubles and mixed doubles especially, which was probably the first time that I was playing really serious competition with Daniel who is an amazing doubles player. I think everybody knows that.

"It was such a great experience to be in the final of the mixed doubles at a grand slam and at such a young age too in front of my home crowd.

"After two weeks of a grand slam to be playing at the end of the tournament is such a good feeling.

"Obviously it was a little bit disappointing, but coming so close to winning the title was a good achievement."

Favourite surface

Mladenovic is slowly climbing the rankings at all levels of the game.

She recently reached No 39 in the women's singles and is showing no signs of slowing down as she heads into a battle of the blonde bombshells with Sharapova.

"I'm excited and I love this tournament," she said. "Grass is my favourite surface and I have very good memories because I also played a singles final and doubles final in juniors so I'm looking forward to it."

"I'm still working hard but I still have many things to work on and improve, but I'm definitely looking forward to enjoying every tournament where I have the opportunity to shine and try to show my best.

"Singles is the priority for me at Wimbledon," admitted the Frenchwoman.

"Obviously I will try my best and play match by match and try and win as many as I can.

"The transition from clay to grass is not easy but I love grass. It's my favourite surface probably because of my game and my big serve. My game can adjust on any surface though, but I just enjoy grass and Wimbledon."

Mladenovic admits it will be tough for her to win a major title with so much competition at the top of the women's game, but is relishing the challenge.

"Obviously it's my goal," she said with a smile. "Well, I was very close to a mixed doubles title at a grand slam, but I have to be honest with you - the competition today is very hard.

"They are not at all similar, but they have their own weapons and I think they can be very good players in the future, which is a great thing for British tennis."
Mladenovic on Robson and Watson

"I believe in myself and I hope to win a Grand Slam as soon as possible, it's definitely a goal in my career to achieve such a big thing.

"I won't be too much in a hurry because there are a lot of players ahead of me.

"It's true that I'm just 20, but I'm just one of many promising young players coming through. The competition is exciting."

Mladenovic is ranked inbetween the likes of Laura Robson (No 37) and Heather Watson (No 57) whom she grew up playing against at junior level.

When asked on her opinion of the British pair, she said: "They are very good, young players. I've known them for a very long time - I think from the age of 10.

"I know Laura and Heather and I think they have specific games. They are not at all similar, but they have their own weapons and I think they can be very good players in the future, which is a great thing for British tennis. I think it's really good to have two good players like this."

Finally, I rather naively asked her whether people are sometimes surprised when they see her on court representing France. She laughed, and said in her strong French accent: "Why? Is it because I'm tall and blonde?"

Mladenovic against Sharapova is my pick of the first round matches at Wimbledon and a possible shock could on the cards if the young French star brings her 'A' game to SW19.

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